‘It’s time to start seeing other distances’

There are many things I’ve never done in my eight years of running: run 50 miles, win a marathon, race a mile.

At least the last of those is something many runners have done, especially those who ran while in school. In February, I came a little closer: I ran my first-ever 800 meter time trial.

And I’m not sure I ever want to do that again.

I train with the Derby City Athletic Club youth team when I can, made up during the track season of a group of kids either affiliated with parochial schools coached by the DCAC team or who attend schools without teams. And during track season, they very conveniently meet at the track a mile from my house.

I should preface this story by saying I ran a decent marathon at the beginning of November, and my training for the past four months has been relatively lackluster. I just hit 40 miles again at the end of February. I blame the combination of holidays, horrendous weather and getting engaged/planning a wedding.

So when coach tells me one of the kids needs to do an 800 time trial, I’m not sure what to think. And I spent a lot of time thinking about it — it probably occupied my mind off-and-on for most of the day. I pulled up McMillan calculator estimates using various race times from last year and tried to guess a) how fast I thought I could go and b) how fast the kids were going to go. With coach injured, I was the de facto rabbit, there to try to keep the kids on assigned pace.

Several kids had run their time trial the day before and were just running easy, so I thought, but one girl had poorly-paced her 800 the day before and said she felt good enough to do another. (Kids. Defatigable.)

We run three miles easy and head back to the track. This is when I find out pretty much all the kids are going to do the time trial, even those who tried it the day before. Most of them wear Garmins but don’t seem to pay attention to them in terms of pace.

Coach gives paces to the front-of-the-pack, telling us to hit 43 seconds for the first 200 and 1:26 for the first 400.

“You’ll slow down on the second lap but just try to hang on,” he says.

One of our speedsters said she couldn’t make any promises about the pace — she’s the one who needed the do-over, after hitting 37 seconds in her first 200 the day before and slowing to an 800 in just over 3 minutes.

I tell coach I’m not sure I can go that fast, but I figure I’ll try and at least get them on target for the first 400. Literally, I have not tried to run faster than probably 7:15 pace in months. Sub-6, even for a half-mile, sounds difficult.

Off we go.

We hit the 200 nicely bunched and right on time. Doesn’t feel too bad.

First lap, 1:26. I have, to my credit, a history of good pacing. The group is now strung out, me and  the little speedster at the front. And by little I mean she barely comes up to my chest, and I’m only 5’2″.

As we round the turn, coach starts, well, coaching.

“FIND ANOTHER GEAR!!!!” is followed by the little speedster’s name. I know he is encouraging her, because we know she can run under 3 minutes. But … I don’t want her to find another gear and pass me, either. So I give it a whirl.

In my mind, I do think of my running as gears. If I have a five-gear transmission, I stay in gears two and three a lot. Gear four gets some use, but gear five is saved for interval workouts, 5k races and kicking. For the first lap, I was maxing out the RPM in gear 4, and I honestly wasn’t sure gear 5 was currently in existance.

I lean into the curve and push. Not sure what my third 200 split was but I’d guess it was my fastest. I am pulling away from the kids, even our speedster, but definitely tying up down the backstretch.

Coach is still yelling, so we are all pushing, trying, willing ourselves across that line.

By my watch, 2:51. I actually negative-split the second lap. Speedster comes through in 2:54, five or six seconds better than the day before, and (hopefully) a valuable lesson in pacing and sticking to the plan.

I throw in a hard 200 to finish up a short-distance runner’s workout, which is abysmal, and jog home, oddly proud of myself. The 800 and mile are usually discussed as difficult distances because it’s hard to find a groove, so to finally tackle one felt like a big accomplishment, even it it wasn’t a race.

My time was definitely not stellar, but it definitely gives me hope going into the racing season this spring. Which, my column about trail running this spring? Unlikely. We have endured so much snow and ice — with more coming this first weekend of March as I finish this column — it’s been difficult to get in many miles or to even get on the trails. Instead, I’m eyeing half marathons in May and early June, plus 5ks through the summer. And who knows, maybe an 800 or mile race as part of a summer series in Indiana.

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